Since 2006, batteries and waste batteries have been regulated at EU level in accordance with the Battery Directive. However, due to new socioeconomic conditions, technological development, the market and the use of batteries, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a Regulation in December 2020. Once the new law comes into force, sustainability requirements in terms of carbon footprint, recycled content, performance and durability will be phased in from 2024 onwards. The new regulatory framework for batteries throughout their entire life cycle will also require much more detailed rules within secondary legislation to be adopted from 2024 to 2028 in order to be fully operational. By mid-2025, a more comprehensive extended producer responsibility regulatory framework targeting higher collection rates will begin to apply.
The new law advances the EU’s circular economy and zero-pollution ambitions by making batteries sustainable throughout their entire life cycle, from material procurement to collection, recycling and repurposing. The rules support Europe’s transition to clean energy and independence from fuel imports.
In this, batteries play a big role because they are a key technology that plays a central role in improving the climate neutrality of the EU by 2050, and they are a very important part of the European automotive sector. Traffic in the EU accounts for approximately one quarter of greenhouse gas emissions and is the main cause of air pollution. Greenhouse gas emissions and harmful emissions from road traffic will be reduced by the increasing use of electric vehicles. Mainly due to the electrification of transport, the demand for batteries should increase 14 times by 2030, and the EU could cover only 17% of this demand. The exponential growth in the demand for batteries will lead to an equal increase in the demand for raw materials, so it will be necessary to minimize their impact on the environment.
Reasons for making changes
The proposal is aimed at a number of important problems related to the single market, such as unequal conditions of competition for batteries placed on the market due to different interpretations of the applicable rules, obstacles to the functioning of the recycling market, uneven implementation of the Battery Directive, large investments when adapting to changes in the market and other problems related to economies of scale and the need for a fully harmonized regulatory framework.
In addition, there are numerous environmental problems associated with the production and use of batteries and the handling of batteries at the end of their life. The hazardous substances contained in the batteries cause a negative effect on the environment if they are not disposed of in the correct way, and this will be solved only by the proper collection and recycling of portable batteries. One of the reasons for the low rates of collection of portable batteries is the cost involved in establishing a collection system, and in the single market the “polluter pays” principle is not implemented in an appropriate and harmonized manner.
New goals to close the loop
An important goal is to ensure the implementation of common rules for economic entities in the single market and to avoid distortion of market competition. It is important to ensure that producers, importers and economic operators in general are aligned with the requirements that will need to be met when placing batteries on the EU market and providing information to users throughout the single market. The obligation to provide information on efficiency and durability should be part of the technical documentation. Depending on the type of battery, the information should be made available on the Internet in a database and/or in a Battery Passport. The producer’s obligation to provide information on the proportion of recycled content would be in accordance with the harmonized methodology. In the same way, recycling entities must be able to operate in accordance with uniform requirements that will apply equally to all recycling companies in the EU.
The Commission proposes mandatory requirements for all batteries (industrial, automotive, electric vehicle and portable) placed on the EU market.
For the development of a more sustainable and competitive battery industry throughout Europe and the world, requirements such as the use of materials obtained in a responsible manner with limited use of hazardous substances, then the prescribed minimum content of recycled materials, carbon footprint, performance, durability and labeling, as well as meeting collection and recycling goals, are key. Companies placing batteries on the EU internal market will have to prove that the materials used in their production have been properly sourced. The social and environmental risks associated with the extraction, processing and trade of the raw materials used to produce the batteries themselves will need to be identified and mitigated.
In order to close the loop and keep the valuable materials used in batteries as long as possible in the European economy, the Commission proposes to establish new requirements and targets for the content of recycled materials and the collection, processing and recycling of end-of-life batteries. This would mean that the batteries were produced with the least possible impact on the environment, using materials obtained with full respect for human rights, as well as social and environmental standards.
Batteries must be long-lasting and safe, and at the end of their life they should be repurposed, reproduced or recycled, returning valuable materials back into the economy.
The current figure of 45% collection rate should rise to 65% in 2025 and to 70% in 2030, so that the battery materials we use at home are not lost to the economy. Other batteries (industrial, automotive or electric vehicle batteries) must be collected completely. All collected batteries must be recycled, and the recovery of particularly valuable materials such as copper, cobalt, lithium, nickel and lead is set at high levels. Over time, this will ensure that valuable materials are recovered at the end of their life and returned to the economy by adopting stricter targets for recycling efficiency and material recovery.
The proposed Regulation defines a framework that will facilitate the conversion of batteries from electric vehicles so that they can have a second life, for example as stationary energy storage systems or integration into electrical networks as a source of energy. The use of new IT technologies (Battery Passport) and interconnected data spaces will be crucial to increase the transparency of the battery market and secure data sharing. This will enable producers to develop innovative products and services as part of the dual green and digital transition.
Waste batteries and accumulators do not belong to municipal waste, and it is legally prescribed to return waste batteries and accumulators to marked containers, to the place of purchase or to the recycling yard. Collectors of waste portable batteries and accumulators are obliged to collect them free of charge from the owner and hand them over to the processor.
*An overview of the statistics of sales, collection and recycling of batteries and accumulators in the European Union and member states is available on the Eurostat website.
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